Saturday, June 28, 2008

Revising the Novel - Writing Groups part 3

In the last two posts, I wrote about what you need to be aware of before you decide to join a writing group. Understanding that a writing group that fits you well will be a tremendous asset to your writing, today I have to give the biggest warning of all.

I firmly believe that a writing group should be used with caution when you're writing a first draft. At this stage, you should be a burning cauldron of creativity. Your entire focus needs to be on getting the story out of your head. You don't want anyone or anything to squash that, particularly not the opinions of others. What you need to do is close the door, lock yourself in a nuclear bunker, and write, write, write. Get the draft done. Get your thoughts onto paper (computer?). Once that draft if done, you can unbarricade the door, readjust your eyes to the light of day, take a deep breath of fresh air, and let your group know you're ready.

You may disagree with me on this point, thinking that it'd be helpful for someone to give an opinion as you're writing so you'll know if you're off base or not. It isn't. All it does is stall your creativity. Finish the draft. Create your characters, follow your plot. Write your novel.

When you turn in first draft passages to the group one of two things inevitably happens.

1) The group focuses on the millions and millions of small mistakes you've made; grammar, punctuation, spelling, name inconsistencies, date inconsistencies etc. Those mistakes are supposed to be there, it's your first draft. But when you turn in a segment, looking for critique, and what comes back is a long list of grammatical errors, it drains your strength. Plus, invariably they haven't really tackled the big picture questions that you need to know, such as, does this make sense? The small errors become too much of a distraction.

Or even worse;

2) The group will offer their opinion on what they think you should be writing, where you should take a character, how a character should act, where the plot should go. While this sounds like it may be of some value, at this point it's really more of a hindrance. Until you've finished the book and you know where those points are going, the opinions of others are roadblocks. In the end, they will only confuse you, make you doubt your own story.

Both of these common responses from a writing group to your first draft will result in slowing your writing down, not helping it.

Finish the first draft. Pound it out. Get it done. Then, once the draft is finished, it's time to share it with the group. Use the writing group for revision.

That's where the value of the group lies. In the revision (hence the inclusion of writing groups in my Revising the Novel posts.) Once you're in the revision stage, then you want all those grammatical errors pointed out. Then you want to fix inconsistencies in character, plot, time and setting. Then you want to know, does this whole thing work?

And for these issues, a good writing group can be invaluable.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Revising the Novel - Writing Groups part 2

Continuing on with our discussion of writing groups and a long answer to the simple question, should I join one?

5) Committment of members. It's not easy writing, reading, meeting. it requires time and dedication. We meet every month, but at times, like right now when a member is gearing up for the Maui Writing Conference, we meet every two weeks. Everyone must be committed to this. The goal is to help each other succeed.

6) Your writing. In addition to the writing group, you must commit yourself to learning your craft. You can't rely on the group to "turn" you into a writer, nor to make mediocre writing, spectacular. A group is a useful tool, a fine-tuning instrument to prepare your writing for broader readership. It isn't, in and of itself, a substitution for classes, courses, reading and studying. You still must learn your craft.

7) Your fragility. Writing is not a career for the fragile. You're not here for the ego strokes, so if you decide to really commit yourself to writing, park your sensitivity at the door. Good or bad, not everyone will like everything you write, sometimes they're wrong. More often than not they're right.

8) Your filter. Your job is to take the critique and filter it through the mesh of your own certainty. You're the only one who knows what you're trying to do. If two people read something and one likes it, one doesn't, it comes back to you to decide if it's good or not. Opinions vary. If you love it, have the balls to keep it. If it always bothered you a little, then cut it. But if you send it to your group, and everyone agrees that a certain part is weak, or trite, or cliched, or just plain dumb, odds are it is. Keeping then would be an act of egotism. If the group hates it, it probably needs to be redone.

Now, you may wonder why this post is filed under my Revising the Novel section. It doesn't appear to be as directly related to revising as the Ten Point Revision Strategy or the Know Your Theme posts. But it is.

We'll get there next time.

Revising the Novel - Writing Groups

Often times, people ask whether or not they should be in a writing group.

Believe it or not, the answer isn't quite as straight foward as it may seem. The simple answer is 'yes.' Of course you should be in a writing group. You're a writer and the more people who read your stuff the better. You need the eyes on your material. You need the feedback.

But the simple answer isn't always the best.

In reality, the decision to join a writer's group is quite complex and depends upon a number of factors. Over the next two posts, I'm going to discuss the main issues that come to my mind, having been in a long-running writing group for about ten years. I'm basing this discussion on the premise that you're working your butt off writing with a goal to becoming published, not just wanting tea with some friends.

1) Who's in the group. What I mean by this is: is the group a serious group dedicated to writing and publishing or a casual group of repeat conference attendees who love the idea of being writers? If you yourself, are casual, by all means join the casual group, enjoy your tea. But if you're serious about your writing, you need to surround yourself with serious writers who'll get down to business, read your material and comment. The members don't all have to be writing the same type of fiction, in fact, I think it's better if they're not. While the idea of a "Romance Writers" writing group may sound good, I believe the conversation and critique may become a little self-contained and incestuous. It's good to have many writers from different genre's who'll push you to consider aspects of writing you may not normally consider. Such as a different view on character, conflict, or setting. Different genres use these differently, but we can all learn from each other.

2) The quality of critique. I'm sorry, but serious writers have no room in their life for pandering or hand holding. Critique, to be of any value, must be honest. If that is brutal, then fine. It doesn't do any one any good to hold back for fear of hurting feelings if there is a serious flaw in the writing . The best groups understand this. Rules should be set for how critique is delivered. It shouldn't be personal, teasing or patronizing, but honest. Flaws should be discussed not glossed over. Obviously, the group needs to be made up of people who's opinions you respect and trust, which you may not know at first. Mean spirited members should be asked to leave. But just as importantly, members who won't give negative comments for fear of hurting feelings should leave. We need direct, honest critique. What's good. What's bad. Now move on. This is a professional, not personal, endeavor.

3)The number of members. I think the optimal group size is four to five members. Six at the most. Otherwise, you won't be able to have a serious discussion about each member's writing at each meeting. Big groups are fun, but we're not there to have fun. We're not there to discuss upcoming wedding plans or weekends or car repairs. We're there to discuss writing. If that sounds anal, nonsocial and boring, then you don't need to be in a writing group, you need a social club. A real group knows how to say 'hello,' a few moments of small talk, then gets down to business. If you like each other, you can stay and socialize after the meeting or on weekends. Not when we're supposed to be writing.

4) The format of the group. Formats can take as many shapes as tigers have stripes (I almost wrote 'as lions have stripes.' Well, it is 4 am.) In my group, each member's material is reviewed at each session. Each writer sends out 20-30 pages to each member who then reads it, reviews it and writes comments. When we get together, we rotate who's material gets discussed first, then take turns talking about the submission. Everyone gets a chance to comment. The author is supposed to remain quiet, not defending, occasionally allowed to offer clarification. If that sounds rigid, then good. When you've published your book (or submitted it to an agent) you won't be standing there by the reader offering defense of your writing. Once you've submitted it, it has to stand on its own.

We rotate houses each meeting. The host used to provide some basic sustenence, but we've eliminated this as it started to become bigger and bigger, then we spent as much time eating as talking. Now, a bowl of nuts, some bottles of water and three hours of critique.

Not glamorous, but effective.

If you like this line of posting, let me know. I'll continue this thread in my next post. I'll be out of town on Thursday, so look for the next update on Saturday.

Thanks for reading, now get back to work. There's writing to do!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Revising the Novel - Theme to Story

What comes first, the theme or the story?

That's a very fundamental question, and I'm sure many of you have your own opinions on this. We can follow this up with a later question, what comes first, character or plot? But for now will stick to one concept. One theme if you will.

In my hands, story came first. I had an idea of a research project, a twist on current science that I wanted to explore. Idea led to plot, plot led to characters, characters led to story, story led to theme. It was only after I'd finished the novel, and gone through a couple of revisions that the main theme of forgiveness became apparent. At first, it was just a story about a pretty ambitious guy driven to do his research. It was only after the story evolved, that my hero kept going back, despite horrible odds, that it began to tick in my brain as to why. Why would someone continue to fight and fight, when the whole world is against him, when his whole life has collapsed? The underlying motivation had to be more than just the satisfaction of finishing the project, or money or fame. It had to be a reason deeply wrapped into the fabric of who he is.

In my story, it was his need for forgiveness, for himself and for his family.

Once I saw that, suddenly the story clicked. And that's the value of theme. Once you know your theme, then the story takes on the light of relevance. Suddenly, you can see scenes that contradict your theme, and they go. New scenes get added that enhance the theme, set it up, draw it out.

For me, the whole book changed. It was no longer a standard medial thriller, good guy fighting against bad guy for his project that meant, oh so much for the world. It was now a story about one man and his quest to move beyond his past, find peace and find meaning in his life.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's a medial thriller. I got blood and guts and bodies and car chases and murder, even poison, but don't you think having all that action surrounding a story that is so deeply personal makes it more interesting?

Stephen King says on theme that if you start with the theme, the book will fail. You must start with story. I suppose he knows. Last I checked he's sold more books than me (So far. Look behind you Stephen, I'm coming up fast) And in my opinion, Stephen King should be placed on the list of the greatest 20-21st century writers. Not because his books sell or are made into movies, but because most of his books move beyond the story, deeply into theme, and this makes them memorable. (not to mention that he's one of the great character writers of all time). We tend to think of King as the writer of Cujo, or Christine or Pet Semetary but let's not forget, he's also the writer of The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, and The Green Mile. This man know's theme.

But even many of his horror books really delve into deeper topics, like The Shining, The Dead Zone, The Stand, even Carrie.

Still, I don't know if I entirely agree with his thought. Certainly, it is the way I wrote my book, story first then theme, but that doesn't mean its the only way. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this, particularly the thoughts of the Plot Whisperer. I believe that if the theme is compelling enough for you, you can write a successful book, even in this day and age. But you must quickly move beyond theme into rich character, plot and story. Theme should be subtle, not omnipresent. A tickling under the skin, not a flesh wound.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The New Kindle Reader - Your Thoughts?

I wanted to take a break from my revision posting to talk about something interesting that happened to me this week.

In my office, so far this week, I've seen two people come in carrying the new Kindle reader. This is the first I've ever seen of it. I've always thought it was interesting technology, but I've never actually seen one before. Until now.

Both of these people were avid readers. Multiple books each month readers, the kind we'd all love to reach with our writing. One was in her 40's the other was in her mid-to-late 60's, so we're not talking about techno-gen X'ers here. These are mature adults who grew up in the pre-laptop generation.

Both praised the Kindle to no end. They loved the portability, the ability to go on vacation and carry many books at once, without carrying many books. They loved the lightness of the reader and the ease of use. Perhaps most impressive of all, the wireless technology allowed one woman to purchase a new book from Amazon and start reading it right there, in my office, while she was waiting to see me. Further, she let me know that lots of books that are beyond copyright are available for free download. She had 30 books on her reader.

Now, all of that sounds great, but the big question to me was, how does it read? If you're like me, the very process of reading on a screen is very different that reading a book. For some reason, the story just doesn't seem the same to me, even though they're the same words. She showed me the screen, which has a muted grey background so there's no glare, showed me how to flip pages, even change the font size for easier reading. In her view, after the first few minutes, she couldn't tell the difference between reading the Kindle or reading a book.

What are your thoughts? Will the Kindle become the next answer for reading? It is a nice, portable form of electronic reading and allows you to store a vast library at your fingertips. The thing I like about it is that, for now at least, the purchasing of books still allows electronic distribution with full recognition and royalties to the author, as opposed to file sharing of music mp3's.

Now the Kindle is a bit pricey, $399 originally, but I heard they dropped the price down to $349. Books are relatively reasonable, $9 apiece, billed directly to your Amazon account. Is it worth spending $349 for a gadget that allows you to read a book that's more costly than a paperback, yet not ever have the physical product?

Will this spell the demise of the book store as we all browse our Kindles and buy through the ethernet? Is this the future format of book distribution?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - In Action

A little update post today.

As some of you may know, I came up with the Ten-Point Revision Strategy to help me complete the current revision of my novel, so what I'd like to do today is give you an idea of how well this strategy is working for me.

A touch of backstory. Before this revision started my novel, a medical thriller, was about 117,000 words. Not overbearing, but a little long for the genre. My agent, who's quite enthusiastic about the book, suggested I get it down to about 90-100,000 words. Now, think about that for a moment. I already told the story I wanted to tell, and it took me 117,000 words. How am I now supposed to keep that story intact and reduce it by roughly 20%. Daunting, to say the least.

Stephen King has shared a formula he learned from one of his mentors. Second draft = first draft - 10%. I like that formula, as it shows the type of editing we all need to do to tighten our stories. But I needed 20%, not 10. Ouch. To top it off, I tend to be an adder when I revise, not just a subtractor. I find scenes that I think need more embellishment, more sensory information, or movement, so I expand them, fill them out. So it isn't always a simple cutting action for me.

But still, one in every five words needed to go.

Hence, the Ten-Point Revision Strategy.

So far, I've been very happy with how the strategy has performed, guiding me along the path. Each point has worked as intended to help me focus on the core of the story, and the core of the writing; to trim, tighten and enhance.

I can't tell you how much I like point # 5 - End Each Chapter Earlier. Time and time again, I've used this, cutting out the last sentence, paragraph or even several paragraphs from each chapter, and always I've found it added to the drama. Clearly, I tended to overwrite the ends of my chapters, trying too hard to find a pat ending or a final summary. Not anymore. Cut em out. They're a vestigial organ and need to be removed. I can't encourage you enough to try adding this simple step to your own revision process.

I also tend to over-explain as I write. Since there is a lot of science in my novel, I found I spent quite a bit of time filling in research or simply explaining science to make my concept believable. Using rule #1 - Resist the Urge to Explain, I've cut this quite a bit. The science works best when I simply show it in action, having the characters talking about it as it's going along. Do you really need to know that in 1989 Dr. Demoisue ran into a horrible problem attempting to do something far simpler than what my hero is doing? Maybe. If I can bring it in in such a way that it enhances the drama. If it's just one big info dump, it's got to go. This applies equally to non-thrillers, particularly when introducing or working with character. Resist the Urge to Explain. Let the characters breathe on their own and reveal their past through their current actions and behaviors. Little details can be added, succinctly, then move on. Allow the character to reveal themselves, not the author.

Throughout this entire revision, I've been very conscious of movement, per point #8, and I'll never underestimate how much movement can help the flow of a story, particularly when the action is on pause.

And finally, I've been very happy with point #3 - Know Each Character's Motivation. Keeping this point in mind, I've been able to cut out several small scenes where it was apparent that the scene served the author (me) not necessarily the character. Nothing really happened, the characters didn't reveal anything new, or reveal new motivation or growth. The scenes were placeholders, separating other scenes, and nothing more. Now, they're gone.

Currently, I'm about 1/3 through the revision and I'm down to about 109,000 words. So I'm making progress. My original timeline was to finish by June 30. I may be a little bit off that goal, but the book is ending up tighter than I ever imagined.

In future posts, I'm going to start a block on character arcs and plotting, but for now, back to revising.

P.S. I'd like to thank Writer-in-Progress for her wonderful kind comments and very informative blog. The depth of writing resources available on the web today never fails to astound me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Writing and the Muse

Sorry, I was unable to post this week, but work required me to be out of town. As a general rule, my plan is to post every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, so if I miss one, you know I'm probably traveling.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank all the great blogs out there that have been so supportive of me, especially the Plot Whisperer, Word Stumpet, the Writer's Mentor and Me, My Muse and I. If you don't already have those earmarked, your missing out on some sage advice.

All of which brings me today's topic. The Muse.

I may inflame some controversy with this, and I hope not to offend, but I've attended enough writing seminars to know that there are a large number of people in love with the thought of writing, but not the work of writing itself. You may have seen some them, women and men, wrapped up in a romantic fantasy about the life of a writer. Women sharing a Jane Austen fantasy, where they wear flowing gowns, walking leisurely through rose gardens, strolling until that beautiful moment when inspiration strikes, the muse arrives, and they're carried on a warm wind to their waiting pen and paper. The men tend to have more of a Papa Hemingway fantasy, reclusive and isolated, enmeshed in their world of hurt, until the muse helps them to express all the true sentiment in their hearts.

Most of these people will never become successful writers. Most will never complete a finished book. Some may, most won't.

Stories don't come on the wings of fairies, sprinkled into our ears with a trace of pixie dust. Writing can't wait until you feel inspired, or until the heart is bursting full to capacity.

Writing is work. Writing is a job. Writing is commitment.

As I'm typing this. It is 4:57 am. I've been up since 3:30. My agent wants this revision finished. My editor wants this revision finished. The publisher won't wait until I feel inspired or motivated to write. They want it now. And just as importantly, I want to give it to them now. Fortunately, early morning hours are good times for me. I wake up easily (three dogs that want breakfast at 4:00 am each morning see to that) but I don't wake up this early by choice. It's a commitment. I'm committed to being a writer, the best writer I can be. And more than inspiration, more than motivation, more than a muse, it requires time.

Since the first of my many $1 million checks hasn't arrived from the publisher or Hollywood yet, I have a day job. I also have a wife, a son and three Lhasa Apsos, and I love to spend time with all them. The only way I could squeeze all this into a 24 hour day was to give up something, and that was my mornings. So each day, saturday and sunday included, I get out of bed at 4:00 am, feed my doggies, make my coffee and head to my writing office. I try to get three hours in each weekday before the family awakes, 5 or 6 hours on the weekends. I bring my computer on work trips and family vacations. My schedule never changes.

Certainly, some mornings I'm more awake than others, or more productive. But it doesn't matter. Each day, I'm there. And that's important. To make that commitment to being at your writing desk, no matter where it is, each day. Some days it will flow, some days you'll struggle, but you'll be writing. And hopefully, you'll find, as I do, that the more you write, even when you don't want to, the easier writing becomes. It's as if you create some sort of writing "muscle memory," a reflex that kicks you into writing mode, even when the muse hasn't visited.

I'm not saying that what I do is the best way, or the only way. It may not even be sane. But it is the only way it works for me, to get in the necessary time, feeding the writing beast.

And to me, that's what writing is. It's not an enchanted forest where I run away to explore new worlds full of magical creatures, or a garden to stroll through in endless meditation. I create those places and worlds in my writing. No, the act of writing itself is a beast, a multi-headed monster that needs to be fed every day, rain or shine, whether you feel like feeding it or not. But don't worry, it is a beast that can be tamed, taught to do amazing tricks, return to you what you give it in multiples, but a beast nonetheless.

Writing is a job. A commitment. A necessity.

Writing is.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Revising the Novel - Back to Theme part 3

I've been amazed at how powerful thematic thinking could be. To me, theme was always a nebulous term, something I searched for (or made up) in high school literature classes, trying to place meaning into a story that I didn't necessarily think had meaning. But now I've changed my mind completely. Theme is a powerful, provocative tool. Now don't get me wrong. If used incorrectly, too heavy-handed, didactic or pedantic, it will kill your story, slog it down with verbiage and your strong desire to "make a message." But used correctly, it can enhance your story, elevate it, give it substance or as Stephen King calls it, resonance.

Here's how theme can benefit your story:

1) Once you've identified your theme, which you'll usually find in the changes (or lack of changes) in your major character or characters throughout your novel, it gives you a powerful focus for your revision. My story is about a scientific/medical experiment, a cool one at that, but my theme is really the growth that happens in my hero. With this in mind, I now have a pinpoint focus on the story I need to tell. All extraneous scenes can be cut, scenes that don't move my story forward and lead to this conclusion. Maybe a few scenes need to be added, scenes that are necessary to properly set up the conflicts and changes my hero will go through. Again, I'm not talking heavy stuff here. The vehicle through which my hero's change occurs starts off as a subplot to his getting the experiment started. But as the story progresses, and he battles with forces trying to stop him etc, that subplot re-emerges and becomes crucial to the finale. A powerful demonstration of how his research has changed him, while showing him in action, using that very research project.

2) With your concept of theme in hand, you finally know what your novel is about. This is huge when you come to trying to sell your book. As I mentioned earlier, during my discussion with Robert Dugoni, when he asked me what my book was about, I stumbled on endlessly about minor plot points and incidental characters and complications. That is what my plot was about, but not my book. I can't tell you how much I struggled with this. When I was writing queries, I was near incoherent in trying to get across my story. How was I supposed to reduce 450 pages of boiling plot into two paragraphs that were interesting enough to get the agent's attention? Theme. That's the answer. Remember, you book isn't about your plot. Your plot is a vehicle to tell a story. Your story is your theme.

After babbling on to Robert for what seemed like hours (I do believe kingdoms rose and fell in the time it took me to stumble through my plot) Robert politely nodded and said, "So your story is about a doctor, driven by the suicide of his brother to complete a research project, only to find that in the end, it leads to his own redemption as he learns to forgive his past."

To which I could only reply, as intelligently as possible, "Um, yeah."

Now, how embarrassing is it to have a complete stranger, someone I've known for less than an hour, turn around in just a few moments, and tell me what my novel was about far more coherently than I ever could? Robert is exquisitely tuned into the concept of theme. As an expert story-teller, he can sift through the detritus of subplots and characters and drill down to the root of the story. That's what makes his writing so effective. That's why he's a best-seller.

So, now armed with Roberts digestion of my novel, I went back and took a deeper look. Suddenly, my book made sense to me. It wasn't about the research (as cool as it is) or the villains trying to stop it, or the murders, or the political intrigue, or the manhunt, it was about one lonely, self-isolated guy, living in a world of hurt, searching desperately for salvation, believing he'd find the answer locked in a musty old basement laboratory, when in reality, the answer always rested within his own family and forgiveness.

Sounds like a better story to me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Revising the Novel - Back to Theme part 2

So the real question then, is what is your book about?

You can write a story about a doctor who solves a mass murder case at her hospital, but underneath the story, if you look hard, you'll probably find a deeper message or idea running through. This is the theme, at least in the way I use the word.

Now, after you've finished your first draft, poured your heart and soul out onto the paper (or as I heard it referred to once,"breaking open the bones to find the marrow") it's time to take a look back at what you've done. Most authors recommend a cooling off period, which I agree with. Stephen King recommends six weeks, which seems about right. Finish the draft, put it away, clear your mind, meditate on a mountain and work on another project for a short while. A short story, a magazine article, your blog, whatever it takes to keep your fingers and mind writing, but not on your novel.

Then, when the grapes have fermented, bring the book back up and re-read it. The first revision (before you get to the Ten-Step Revision Strategy which is the final revision) is to look for major issues, character issues, plot, setting, time inconsistencies etc, and also theme.

During this revision, usually something will begin to stand out, at first maybe just a tickling at your brain, but with due diligence you'll see that beyond the thriller about the murder at the hospital, something else happened. This is usually revealed in one of the character arcs of your story, usually the hero. It may be as simple as how the events of the story changed her or altered her world view. It may be reflected in the change of her attitudes towards other characters or her work or her home. It may be hard to find at first, but it's usually there. Search for it, brush the dust off, sweep away the detritus, and you'll find it. Your theme.

Now, you may ask why is it important to find this, to know that deeper underlying story when, in reality, all you've set out to do was write about a murder at the hospital. My view on this is very simple. Knowing the theme can only make your book stronger. That theme, if portrayed properly, without too much emphasis, becomes the readers "Aha," moment. Their take home message. It's not a moral, just a lingering thought. It's what can make your book stand out above all the other hospital murder stories ever written. It's what makes your writing, yours.

Once you've identified the theme (perseverance against all odds, a young woman's struggle for success and independence, whatever) then when you're revising, it becomes very easy to add scenes or embellish scenes that help to bring this theme to the surface, or eliminate scenes that are contradictory or non-helpful.

The story is still about your story, but by bringing that theme to life, your story becomes about so much more.

This is what I've been doing recently with my book. I've finally identified the theme, and suddenly the whole story seems so much clearer to me.

More on that next time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Revising the Novel - Back to Theme

Let's get back to our earlier conversation about theme.

There's an excellent discussion of theme in Steven King's book, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, which I would recommend to anyone who's interested in writing novels. Considering that these are the words of one of the best-selling writers of all time, it's certainly worth paying attention to what he has to say. His take on theme is very similar to mine, or should I say, my take is very similar to his (as I'm certain his views on this topic came first.)

First of all, theme doesn't have to be big, overblown deal, and in fact, it shouldn't. To sit down and write a book about "X" theme, because you really want to make a moral or philosophical statement is usually a set-up for failure. In the days past, readers may have had patience for a dissertation on what the authors moral views of a subject were or their grand view on life, but not today. With the short-attention spans we're confronted with, any preaching you do as a writer is probably going to be all the excuse the reader needs to put the book down. No, in today's multi-media age, all that really matters is the story. Particularly with thrillers. Keep it engaging, keep it exciting and keep it moving.

But that doesn't mean your book may not make a grander statement than a simple shoot-em-up. In fact, the best thrillers will make a statement, or a leftover lingering thought, something to make the reader go "Hmmmm, so that's what this is about." The important thing is that the theme shouldn't (can't) overpower the story. Remember, story always comes first.

I didn't set out with a deliberate theme when I started my novel. I wanted to tell a story, based in science and medicine, about an experiment that goes horribly wrong and its consequences for my hero. As it turns out, this is the approach Stephen King recommends as well. Write your book, tell your story, then look back and see what your story is really about. It's probably not about the big gunfight, or in Stephen's case, the vampires haunting the New England town, it's about the people. And usually some very specific aspect of the people.

With this in mind, as I set out to follow the Ten-Point Strategy to revise my novel, I started thinking about what deeper story my book told. At first I thought it was a "David vs Goliath" type of story, but after my discussion with Robert Dugoni, I began to realize that it was something very different, and in truth, much more satisfying.

More on that next time.

Pick up Stephen King's On Writing here: On Writing